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Greenville Business Magazine

The business and education worlds need to come together to improve schools

By Dr. William F. Roach, Jr.

I recently asked a principal his thoughts on education and the workforce in Upstate South Carolina. This principal responded, “The current educational system and workforce in the Upstate of South Carolina has remnants of our past mixed with the contemporary views of our modern era and culture. Throughout the Upstate, there are a plethora of educational opportunities that produce a smorgasbord of employees in our workforce heading out into their respective fields.” 

I thought about his statement for a long time. He is absolutely correct in that we still have some traces of our past, both in the educational system and within today’s workforce. However, both areas are changing rapidly. And so, I began to ask the question: are we keeping up within the educational realm?

Business leaders constantly share with educational leaders that today’s workforce needs more soft skills training and a better understanding of job performance, attendance, motivation, and following through. 

One of the problems is that teachers today are considered the “fixers.” They are expected to fix issues with motivation, reading levels, emotional distress, etc. The list could go on and on. 

In many instances, people go to school to obtain the title of teacher, but they become mothers, fathers, friends, counselors, coaches, and many other roles before they can even teach students. While many see this as a problem, it can just as easily be seen as an opportunity to impart wisdom into the lives of our current students and future workers. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines partnership as “a relationship resembling a legal partnership and usually involving close cooperation between parties having specified and joint rights and responsibilities.” A partnership between education and the workforce would, according to this definition, build a relationship where both sides shared the responsibility of educating our young people and preparing them for the work world. 

While I do agree that we have many partnerships between educational associations and businesses, I do not think we have made the commitment as a nation to make that commitment on a grand scale. By becoming partners, both the education and business worlds would have a better understanding of the challenges and needs that exist, and this would, in turn, better serve our committees. By working together, we would have a greater chance of eliminating the proverbial blame game.

The State of South Carolina has adopted TransformSC’s Profile of the South Carolina Graduate, “a shared vision of the knowledge, skills, and characteristics needed for students to be successful in higher learning and careers.”

“It is important that efforts to transform South Carolina’s public education system are aligned to a common goal,” says Dr. Traci Cooper, chairperson of the State Board of Education. “We rally around this new profile as a framework all South Carolinians can embrace. It allows all of us—across all sectors—to speak a common language, around a common goal, towards unifying expectations of our students’ future.” 

As our culture, qualifications, and expectations in the business world change, our educational system must continue to seek ways to stay abreast of those changes. One of the largest disconnects involves the teachers. 

In speaking with a teacher recently, she shared this with me: “I am not yet convinced that the conversation about education and workforce truly exists beyond theory. I see that our job is to prepare kids for the workforce, but as it changes more and more, the communication needs to flow back and forth more and more. Many teachers don’t even know what careers are out there and/or how our subject areas are used in the real world. We need to have conversations about what is needed for the workforce, as well as if what we are producing meets those needs.” 

I believe this teacher provides great insight. Teachers are on the front lines and are really the ones that enact change with the students. If we are truly going to make the necessary changes within the educational realm, we need to involve teachers in the conversations.

While we know there is a disconnect between the educational system and the workforce, we are making strides to correct that disconnect. As I shared earlier, it is imperative that we continue to build relationships with the workforce and share the responsibilities of educating tomorrow’s leaders. Part of that relationship is to include teachers and workers in the conversations. Shared responsibilities and communication are two of the essentials in this process.